We accept students that are not accepted at state schools Interview with Milan Černý, director of a school for children with severe handicaps, on broadening the school’s capacity

002_5955Ten years ago, he found out through a friend that Diaconia’s special needs school in Prague was looking for a new director. He had the qualification for such a position, but he did not have the experience. “I like accepting challenges and I had a feeling I would come across many of them at Diaconia,” Milan Černý explains. In fact, he is facing one of the biggest challenges just now: the special needs school in Michle, called V Zápolí, needs to significantly broaden its capacity in order to be able to help more families that have children with a severe handicap.  

Why does the V Zápolí school need to be enlarged and cannot stay the way it is now? 

Diak. Milan ČernýThe school is a much sought-after one and in the current situation, we are forced to turn down even applications from families that come from the neighbourhood. We don’t have enough space and it would be a mistake not to try and change that. The more kids attend our school, the more families we can support. A special needs school is a great deal of help to these families. At the V Zápolí school, we also urgently need a gym, as the kids really don’t have anywhere they can play. We also need a room that would serve for safely calming down our autistic students. We are also planning on building a training kitchen, because we want to teach our children to be as independent as possible, so that they are able to take care of themselves as best they can once they leave school.

How many students will your school be able to accept if you broaden the capacity?

Twice as much as now. At the moment, we have 48 students; after the renovation, we could have as much as nearly a hundred. We have also been considering the incorporation of a vocational training school for children with special needs. The new building should include a kindergarten and a 0th grade of elementary school, which would be separate from other classes.

 How do you get money for such a large project?

diak.002_5948Since our school is located in Prague, which is a rich region, we are out of luck in a way: we are not entitled to investment grants from the EU. We will have to find a different way to acquire the approx. 10 million CZK that we are still short of. First, we always turn to our students’ families, asking them for help. Some are able to make a donation, others spread the word and share the information about the renovation project with their friends. I have also addressed companies that have supported us before. I am also trying my luck with the Czech-Vietnamese association, as four Vietnamese students attend our school. Anybody can contribute to the renovation. We have a donation form on our website, through which anybody can send a donation, no matter how small or large.

You have already accomplished one big project, the school garden.

Yes, we are very proud of that. Other children’s families have helped us with it. For example, the father of one of the kids came to the garden with an excavator truck and got rid of all the concrete elements, another father donated 50,000 CZK. Basically, all the parents helped in any way they could and I appreciate that so much. Bit by bit, we managed to collect the necessary amount of money and created a garden with many sound toys, slides, a trampoline and various activities for developing motor skills. There is also plenty of space for rest as well as a gazebo. We also built a piece of pavement, where the kids can ride bikes and scooters, which, after all, is what they love the most.

In your view, is there anything that makes Prague’s special needs schools exceptional?

Diak.002_5953 (3)What makes us exceptional is that we take care of children with the most severe types of handicaps. We have students that would never be accepted at special needs schools administered by the state. Another thing that sets us apart is that our employees are people who actually want to do this job, they want to learn from each other and support each other. And I believe this is really happening. Each one of us is contributing to making everything work. I also believe that somehow, this shows through the parents and the kids.

Vendula Janů